Los Roques, Venezuela
Many mistresses tempt traveling angler's piscatorial passions. Perhaps they are tantalized by the chrome bright steelhead that skulk in the mysterious coastal rainforests of BC or by salmon that lurk in the slate blue waters of Alaska. Maybe their passions also lead them to the rodeo towns of Montana and Wyoming and the big, sipping brown trout that live nearby. In the salt, many anglers are seduced by the lure of airborne tarpon suspended over the dark green waters of the Yucatan. Some perhaps, also hear the siren's call of permit that haunt the turtle grass flats of Belize. Single mindedly, they follow these elegant black tails as they cut through the cloying humidity of an incandescent tropical summer. Passions turn to obsessions, obsessions turn into life quests. They tell their wives it is better than alcohol or other women. Their wives remain unconvinced.
But for the true bonefishermen, a year is not a year without stalking bonefish. For them, it is not only the sleek chrome beauty of the animal they seek that brings them back year after year, but the spectacular places that these prized sportfish inhabit as well. They savor each new destination like a fine wine, yet often must return to familiar tropical haunts as often as time and money allows. They are torn then, not only by other species, but also by the myriad of wonderful destinations available within the sport. From the Bahamas to Christmas Island and from the Seychelles to the Yucatan, they seek a slippery rocket with a serious overbite.
For these bonefishermen, this hardcore group who have learned the ropes, invested too much in gear and spent way too many hours eating, sleeping and thinking bonefish, there is bonefishing, then there is BONEFISHING. While they will settle for cruising fish in knee-deep water or school fish holed up in a gorgeous turquoise pocket at high tide, what they most seek is tails. BIG TAILS!... BIG TAILS IN SKINNY WATER! Their game is to stalk bonefish when they are the most alert, the most nervous and often the most visible. This is when sight fishing takes on an added meaning. These diehards will wade for hour after hour staring into the hard reflected glint of a hot high sun to get a shot. They'll endure long boat rides, sunscreen dripping into bloodshot eyes and fishless days all for the chance at a big, glassine tail slinking seductively upwind seemingly determined to beach itself. When it happens, the glittering fin is quickly transformed into a rooster tail that pulses magically towards deeper water. Long, still waits become explosive moments that carry all the strength and ancient power of the sea straight down the line through the rod directly to the heart of the angler. Tails... big tails ñ there simply is no substitute. Because of this, family holidays have been missed, girlfriends have fumed, budgets have been destroyed and businesses have been ignored. You either understand this or you do not. If you do, before you seek psychiatric counseling, read on.
For those that seek big tailing fish, there are perhaps two destinations that are relatively easy to reach and relatively inexpensive. They are the Bahamas and Los Roques, Venezuela. They are both world-class bonefishing destinations. Nassau in the Bahamas is a little over an hour from Miami then perhaps, another hour to an out island. Caracas, Venezuela is 3 hours from Miami and then a 30-minute flight to Los Roques. If you are seeking tailing bonefish, these are the two best places for anglers from the states, better than Mexico, Belize and the Florida Keys.
Most experienced bonefishermen know of the Bahamas, but they are surprisingly unfamiliar with Los Roques. Stories abound concerning Los Roques. Some of these stories have dissuaded anglers from giving this magnificent atoll a try. Anglers who love the atoll are reluctant to set the record straight. They would rather let their compadres fish in ignorance. They wink knowingly to each other, stay mum and keep their beloved Los Roques a secret. So at the risk of incurring the wrath of these Los Roques veterans, let's go into some detail here and discuss the pros and cons of Los Roques and whether this area is right for you.
First, concerning tides: Los Roques is situated just eleven degrees above the Equator and approximately 80 nautical miles north of Caracas. Los Roques is a true coral atoll encompassing forty-two coral islands and hundreds of sandy cays or islets. The entire area has been declared a national park, which has not only preserved the natural beauty of the atoll, but has also limited development to a single area around the only permanently inhabited island, El Gran Roque.
Los Roques experiences a very different tidal profile than most experienced anglers are used to when visiting the Bahamas. At Los Roques, currents, upwellings and wind conspire to destroy the predictability of tide charts. For most of the year, you can ignore tides and confidently go at any time. You can ignore full moons and the timing of tides any time between February and October. But from mid-October to mid-January beware, for it will be high tide. You'll not find tails and you'll not be wading the skinny water you seek. No one really knows why these tides are seasonal, but for the bonefishermen that information may not be relevant. If you don't go mid-October to mid-January, you simply shouldn't worry about it! Los Roques' reputation for weird tides came about because anglers have been booked to the atoll during November, December and January by agencies who either did not understand the tidal situation, or chose to ignore it, instead looking for bookings during the lucrative winter season. This is unfortunate and has hurt the atoll's reputation, but let's say this again... don't go during mid-October to mid-January. February to October expect lots of fish, expect to wade and expect tails... period.
Los Roques Outfitters Chris Yrazabal and Ramon Paz, owners of Sightcast, invited Jeff Stine and myself to visit Los Roques in early October. We overnighted in Caracas and took an early flight to Los Roques the next morning arriving in perfect weather. Los Roques is a vast and stunning atoll. Appearing suddenly out of the deep, cobalt blue of the Atlantic Ocean, Los Roques' many islets seem like a bucket of pale pearls tossed upon a turquoise and aqua setting. Jeff and I walked the 100 yards from the strip to our hotel, ate a quick breakfast and were in Chris' skiff heading out to the flats by 9:30 a.m.
We decided to start our explorations with tarpon fishing in one of the lagoons. Chris had been seeing quite a few fish in two lagoons and thought we just might want to give it a try. "You bet" we answered and in no time, we were motoring quietly into the lagoon. We could see pelicans hammering bait at the terminus of the lagoon. Here, acres of sardinas had been packed tightly into raining bait balls. It was calm and sticky hot in the lagoon. The sardinas rained outward into ever-expanding rings as they were spooked by the birds from above and by something yet unseen from below. It didn't take long for us to spot our first rolling tarpon. That initial sighting was soon followed by hundreds of similar encounters as good numbers of 5 to 15lb. tarpon swirled at the bait or rose to gulp air.
Using primarily Umpqua's gummy minnows in size #2 and small poppers, we jumped dozens of small 'poons and even managed to boat a few. This was great fun and an unexpected bonus. We had heard there were tarpon on Los Roques, but we also knew you couldn't count on them. But what fun when it happens! We returned later in the day for a repeat performance, but after our initial few hours, we were ready for some bones!
There are essentially three areas to find bonefish on Los Roques. We won't include the 8lb. bones we spotted in front of our hotel as they searched for sardines in the surf!
The first bonefish habitat available on the atoll consists of traditional flats usually adjacent to islands or small mangrove cays. The flats are peppered with turtle grass, but also offer good stretches of soft white sand. The flats are almost all firm, hard-bottomed and exceptionally beautiful. Fish tail readily here and usually seek the skinniest water where they are safe from predation and therefore, the "living is easy".
The second area where anglers can usually find bones is along the beautiful powdery soft, white sand beaches. Bones prowl the sandy lips of these beaches cruising in 1to 2 feet of water. Often they slither up into the wavelets to tail dramatically in the slightly roiled, wave-tossed sand. With 90% of a cast high and dry on the sand, this is exciting fishing and very visual. This is the closest you'll get to the Seychelles in this hemisphere. These beaches hold good numbers of fish and, as in other areas of the atoll, the fish are big (typically 3-5 lbs.) and exceptionally strong having been raised on a healthy diet of sardinas and crabs.
The third habitat for bones is perhaps one of the most unique and magical places on earth. An area seemingly designed for the diehard bonefishermen. These are the famous pancake flats. Formed by lava flows that cooled and were eventually colonized by tropical corals, these pancake flats grew as far as the surface, eventually collected sand, sprouted turtle grass and over time, became virtual suburban malls for the bonefish. Over 200 such pancake flats exist on the inside of the atoll. Some pancakes flats are only one acre; some are much, much more. Some pancake flats have nurtured mangrove islets; some exist as completely subsurface flats. All the pancakes rear up suddenly gleaming gold out of the rich turquoise and cobalt blue waters. From the air, these pancake islets look like gems. And gems they are... gems with lush turtle grass, dazzling white sand and chrome bright grazing bonefish. The bonefish tail aggressively on these pancake flats. If you bust a fish, often a chain reaction follows as an acre of tailing fish nervously blow up creating an ever-expanding arc towards the terminus of the pancake.
Traditional shrimp and crab patterns size in size #4 to 8 work on all three habitats, as well as Clousers and minnow imitations especially gummy minnows. It is an unusual aspect of Los Roques that bonefish feed on sardinas here. It is not uncommon to see bonefish cruising bait or rising to the surface to take a loopy sardinas critically wounded by a diving pelican.
Since the pancake flats rear up out of deep water and as a result, are constantly flushed with cooler water, the pancake flats are not subject to overheating as are many creeks and flats elsewhere. As a result, these flats are always fishable at proper water levels and are excellent all summer long. On the downside, the sun does become an important component on cloudy days. During overcast periods, the bonefish cannot tolerate the colder water and will await the heating power of the sun to slip back onto the pancakes. The good news is Los Roques is a desert environment and cloudy days are rare.
The guides on Los Roques are excellent. Head guide Chris Yrazabal has over 15 years experience. He is an expert on and a scholar of the Los Roques fishery. He has been guiding since the early 1990's and served as head guide for Chapi Sportfishing before branching out on his own. His cadre of guides are the best on the island. Their eyes are absolutely incredible and their knowledge of the flats immense. Chris and Claudio speak fluent English while Elian, Cayito and Terry speak "fishing" English and communicate quite well with anglers. Guides use beautiful, brand new, 28' deep vee, center console, fiberglass boats powered by new 75hp Yamaha outboards to reach the wading flats. These are the only boats in Los Roques that have sun canopies. This small detail only becomes important when you consider just how close your are to the equator. You'll certainly appreciate the canopies at about 10:00 AM your first day! Each boat has a guide and boatman on board. Boatmen maneuver the boat and can pick up anglers and guides at the end of a beat thus avoiding the long walk back. One other note, Chris dines with anglers each evening. Besides offering his natural charm, Chris is there to answer questions, organize daily fishing schedules and solve any problems anglers might be having. We know a few lodges that could benefit from a good dose of this kind of service!
Anglers are headquartered right on the beach at the lovely Macanao Lodge. This is the only fishing operation available on Los Roques with beachside accommodations. Rooms have private baths, cooling ceiling and floor fans and plenty of hot water. Macanao has a living room attached to the beachside dining room and an open-air, rooftop bar and lounge upstairs. Meals are superb with an emphasis on seafood. The staff is friendly and attentive.
Sightcast uses LTA as their air service provider to Los Roques. LTA has an all turboprop fleet including De Havilland Dash 7's, Cessna Grand Caravans, Dornier 228's and Beechcraft 1900's. The regular scheduled flight is on the Dash 7, which complies with all FAA equipment and requirements. We feel that LTA offers the safest air service option to Los Roques. Sightcast is the only outfitter to use LTA and as such, offers an important service that you should seriously consider when choosing an outfitter.
Sightcast also makes sure that company personnel escort anglers at all times. All anglers are met after leaving customs in Caracas, they are driven to their hotel, picked up in the morning, driven to the domestic air terminal, checked in for their flights to Los Roques and helped with any details such as exchanging money or making sure the hotel has the proper wake up time. This is a professionally run organization committed to serving client needs. The numbers of anglers that return year after year attest to their efficiency.
Guides, boats, accommodations, meals and service... all are topnotch on Los Roques. The fishing is simply world class. As such, we're bullish on Los Roques and personally, can't wait to get back to this absolutely gorgeous corner of the "Wide, Wide World of Bonefishing". So if you love to wade in search of big bonefish, give Los Roques a try. We feel confident you will not be disappointed.
Written by Scott Heywood